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Sales Students Apply Strengths to Win Role-Play Competition

NRC Health Sponsors First Place With $6,000 in Scholarships Provided
Sales Students Apply Strengths to Win Role-Play Competition
The Center for Sales Excellence hosted a Team Role-Play Competition where students competed for $6,000 in prizes. Tyler Vander Woude, senior management and marketing major from Lincoln, and Marcus Anderson, junior finance major from Lincoln, won first place and $2,500, which was provided by NRC Health.

Twenty-two teams of students in the Undergraduate Certificate in Sales Excellence Program competed for $6,000 in the Center for Sales Excellence Team Role-Play Competition sponsored by NRC Health in April. After three rounds of tournament-style pitching to industry professionals, Tyler Vander Woude, senior management and marketing major from Lincoln, and Marcus Anderson, junior finance major from Lincoln, captured first place and $2,500.

Amanda Smolsky and McKenzie Wager earned second place.
Amanda Smolsky and McKenzie Wager earned second place.

"NRC Health is the founding member of the sales center and working together, we wanted to help our students with their strategy in the marketplace. I taught students about NRC Health's reputation program and how to sell their products this spring, which became the scenario for this role-play competition. We greatly appreciate NRC Health's sponsorship of the first-place award," said Blake Runnalls, assistant professor of marketing.

As sales organizations continue to adopt a team selling approach, Runnalls shared how the competition was designed around a team role-play. As the two-member student teams shared insight, they also leaned into their talents.

"We had to mix our personalities and play to our strengths. Marcus is a great critical thinker, and I worked to make a connection with the industry leaders," Vander Woude said.

Amanda Smolsky, senior marketing major from Omaha, Nebraska, and McKenzie Wager, senior marketing major from Centennial, Colorado, earned second place in the competition and $2,000. Bekki Franco, junior pre-health student from Omaha, and Taylor McMurray, sophomore finance major from Hickman, Nebraska, took third place and $1,000. The center provided both the second and third place monetary awards.

"Seeing all the talent in this internal competition for the sales center reminded me how lucky I am to be part of this program and the center. Our team had to work very well together as partners to win," said Wager.

Runnalls shared how role plays are especially critical for early-stage sales students, as it allows them to build their own approach to sales.

"The students all share this framework they learn in class and once they get comfortable with it, they can personalize it to their own style. That may be through word choice or how they approach folks," Runnalls said.

During the semester, students learn about professional development and build their LinkedIn profiles. Then they network with a diverse group of industry professionals in health care, insurance, retail, talent acquisition and recruiting and other industries.

Bekki Franco and Taylor McMurray finished third in the competition.
Bekki Franco and Taylor McMurray finished third in the competition.

"We invite some of those professionals to class, so the students have the opportunity to further connect with them in person. The professionals also return for the role-play competition, so over the course of the last two and a half months, the students meet and develop relationships with them while the professionals get to see the students develop over time," Runnalls said.

Students earned points for building rapport, listening, enthusiasm, effective communication, professionalism and the ability to get a commitment to meet with the boss as the next step in the sales process. The sales center faculty help host the competition and assist students as needed.

"Professors in the sales program greatly value their students and guide us through the entire process in our sales courses. They teach us how to interact with customers and identify their needs while building rapport to keep the relationship going. All those lessons came into play during this competition," Vander Woude said.

As part of the certificate program, students take 15 credit hours to build their sales skills and learn how to influence others. The program has been named a "Top University for Professional Sales Education" each year since inception in 2014-15. Learn more at:

The other students who competed are listed below by hometown, with their year in school in the spring 2024 semester and academic major(s).


Columbus: Brandon Urkoski, sophomore marketing major
Elkhorn: Ben Hastreiter, junior marketing major; Ella Hazen, sophomore management major
Greenwood: Briana Sulentic, junior economics major
Gretna: Dane Westengaard, junior marketing major
Lincoln: Jon Canaday, junior management major; Nicolas Deaver, sophomore finance major; Brayden McPhail, sophomore finance and accounting major; T.J. Stanek, junior marketing major; and Joe Sutko, sophomore marketing major
Omaha: Devyn Carmichael, junior marketing and finance major; Gavin Consdorf, senior management major; Zach Cutler, senior advertising and public relations, and sports media and communications major; David Goldsmith, sophomore finance major; Simon Hanus, sophomore finance major; Andrew Jiron, junior business administration and music major; and Logan Nelson, junior marketing major
Valley: Audrey Frohloff, junior management major
Wallace: Karlie Erickson, junior communications studies major
Waterloo: Jonah Harrison, junior accounting and finance major


Bull Valley, Illinois: Joseph Weinberger, freshman marketing major
Chicago, Illinois: Ty Demand, sophomore marketing major; and Benjamin Penner, sophomore finance and management major
Earling, Illinois: Savanna Musich, junior communication studies major
Grayslake, Illinois: Owen Miller, freshman marketing major
Lake Zurich, Illinois: Taggart Niepomnik, freshman finance major
Lisle, Illinois: Kylie Russell, advertising and public relations and broadcasting major
Naperville, Illinois: Tyler Auer, sophomore finance major
Northbrook, Illinois: Keaton Anderson, sophomore marketing major
Wheaton, Illinois: Paige Leonard, sophomore, marketing major
Overland Park, Kansas: Meghan Fries, sophomore finance major
Brownsburg, Minnesota: Brynna Baker, senior nutrition and health sciences major
St. Pual, Minnesota: Allison Larsen, sophomore marketing and management major
Victoria, Minnesota: Kaylee Wanless, junior marketing major
Waconia, Minnesota: Nora Bailey, sophomore international business major; and Hailey Bigaouette, sophomore marketing major
St. Louis, Missouri: Ava Risch, junior marketing major
Sioux Falls, South Dakota: Sabren Bortnem, junior marketing major

Published: April 25, 2024